Change: The Story of Grace

During certain stages of my life, I remember thinking, “I am too old to make this big of a change.” This thought has crossed my mind every decade from teens, twenties, thirties and even in my forties. At least now I can recognize that self-defeating thought and have learned from experience that it is never really true, it is only a belief. 

I know I am not alone in my struggle to override the “I’m too old” bomb because I hear those very words come out of my students regularly. If it is not in reference to themselves, then it is in reference to their 10, 12, 15 or 19 year old horses as we begin the rehab process.

As always, I learn my greatest lessons from the horses directly, and overcoming the “I’m too old” bomb was no exception. So I share with you the story of a horse that is particularly inspiring. I’m sure it is no cosmic accident that her name is Grace.

Grace

Grace upon arrival in December 2010

Grace arrived at the horse rescue in early December 2010. As her intake photo shows, she was in rough shape; almost skin and bones. Not only had she been nutritionally neglected, the vet estimated her age in her mid to late twenties and she had problems with her eyes that would cause her to slowly go blind. Did I mention that she also showed symptoms of Cushings disease? Grace was a horse that some people might have just put down or most would have put out to pasture for retirement.

But Grace caught the attention of a volunteer named Liz. Liz loved Grace’s sassy spirit and took Grace on as a personal project. Several times a week Liz would come to the barn spending time doing whatever Grace was capable of doing. This involved lots of grooming, hand grazing and gentle walks for the first few months. With Liz’s attention Grace began to put on weight and heal.

About 4-6 months after Grace’s arrival she was finally ready to do more than just hand walking. Liz and I worked together introducing Grace to the long reins, then the Balance Bands and even figured out how to do lunging and some liberty work with a mostly blind horse. Liz became Grace’s eyes while long-reining around the trails and coping with obstacles. Their bond became even stronger and Liz began sponsoring Grace, with the intention of one day taking her home.

Of course, along the way, Grace, Liz and I would run into those kind souls who would question what we were doing. “Wouldn’t it be kinder to just put her out to pasture?” some would say. “Isn’t she too old to change?” someone would chime in, echoing my own past beliefs. But by now, I have finally had enough experience and enough success stories that I kept my mind open – and helped Liz keep her mind open – to the possibility that Grace could not only recover her health, but also be a riding horse. Even if Grace would never be strong enough to be ridden, we kept moving her in that direction for the sole purpose of restoring her health. Just throwing a horse out to pasture and feeding regularly does nothing to help restore fitness and health. The really ironic part of working at the horse rescue was that the volunteers (doing very physical work) were mostly retired people. Turning a horse out to pasture would be like sitting your aged parents down in front of the TV and just bringing them food. Not a nice life for someone’s sunset years.

Grace September 2011 working in long reins

This photo was taken in September 2011, less than 1 year later! Grace not only was able to regain her weight, she had put on a substantial amount of muscle too. Her development was all with groundwork at this point and no riding.

The lesson for me was realizing that Grace herself never had the belief that she was “too old” or “too far gone” or “too damaged” to recover her health. She loved Liz and showed great enthusiasm during her work sessions. Was it hard for her? Yes! Grace struggled at times and got quite tired in a short amount of time during the early stages of work. But Liz stayed respectful and kept working with whatever Grace could do. To Liz’s credit, she also never got in a hurry to ride Grace. Her agenda was to help Grace through rehab and hopefully riding her one day would be the icing on the cake.

Grace and Liz November 2011

By just enjoying the journey and letting go of riding as the ultimate goal, both Liz and Grace got to enjoy every step of the process. For me, it was a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

In January of 2012 I re-started Grace under saddle for Liz. A re-start is basic training, like starting a green horse under saddle, but is called a re-start because the horse had been ridden at some point. I spent the first ride teaching Grace how to stop and how to walk slowly instead of racing! The girl was fired up and feeling great. I got to ride Grace about six times before I resigned from the horse rescue and by the 6thride, Grace was able to balance enough to offer a reasonably collected walk. She was holding a slower, more balanced walk for about 30 minutes and could have been trotting within another month or two.

Grace during re-start in January 2012. Miss thing had to work on standing still and walking slowly!

Liz took over riding when I left and continues to build strength in Grace through the groundwork. I am also so very thrilled to report that this month Grace is finally coming home with Liz, as her very own horse!

Liz and Grace starting under saddle March 2012

Reviewing these photos reminds me once again, it is never too late to get started. Sometimes just stepping onto the path of rehab, or the path of learning, yields results that exceed your greatest expectations.

Thanks Grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

3 Responses to “Change: The Story of Grace”
  1. Liz MacNeill says:

    I know if Grace could she would give you hugs & lots of kisses. What you have done for her & me is remarkable. We owe you so much !! You showed someone who has a love of horses but not much horse knowledge & quite a bit of insecurities that it’s all possible. Dreams do come true,even in my late 40,s YOU’RE NEVER TO OLD !!!!THANK YOU & THANK GRACE ! I know she has much more to teach me ….

  2. Roger says:

    Great story and an inspiration for us all.

  3. Zina says:

    Many Many times, I have thought I incapable of doing something that I love. I watched Liz and Grace (with Kirsten’s help), become quite a team! Although, I still fight with the thoughts, I learn most from the animals. Grace is going to be very happy in her new home, and Liz will be an exceptional momma!
    We are going to move her today to her new home, I think I am as excited as Liz!!!!!

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Equine Imbalance

...."Many problems (of the horse) can be caused by unbalanced patterns of tension in the body"........
....."Uneven tension will often result in uneven body use, difficulty carrying a saddle and rider, stiffness generally 'through the back' or the body as a whole, behavioural problems etc..... " Gavin Scofield D.O.
Founder of Equine Postural Training &
Official Osteopath for the British Endurance team

Acknowledgements

Photos Contributed by:
Jim McCleary - McCleary Photography
Christianne Gentile - True by Christianne
Sarah Wengernuk - Essence Photography

Quote Of The Day

Equestrian art, perhaps more than any other, is closely related to the wisdom of life. Many of the same principles may be applied as a line of conduct to follow. The horse teaches us self-control, constancy, and the ability to understand what goes on in the mind and the feelings of another creature, qualities that are important throughout our lives. Moreover, from this relationship with his horse the rider will learn that only kindness and mutual understanding will bring about achievements of the highest perfection
~Alois Podhajsky